Motorbike and car drivers wait to get fuel at a gas station in Damour, Lebanon, August 13, 2021. (Reuters)

August 20, 2021

Legal experts have warned of the repercussions of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s announcement of importing oil from Iran on the movement of transactions, credits and shipping to and from Lebanon, and the reluctance of international financial institutions and international correspondent banks to cooperate with the country.

Since 2018, US authorities have imposed sanctions on anyone who knowingly enters into deals with Iranian oil companies in order to buy, possess, sell, transfer or market Iranian petroleum products.

For months, Lebanon has been witnessing a fuel crisis that further worsened in recent weeks as a result of rationing in the distribution of gasoline and diesel fuel, two substances subsidized by the Banque du Liban (BDL), the foreign reserves of which have severely decreased.

Dr. Paul Morcos, the head of Justicia, a human rights organization, warned that importing fuel from Iran, without obtaining a special exemption from the US Treasury Department, could place the country under US sanctions, which would be reflected in the movement of remittances, credits and shipping to and from Lebanon. He warned that international financial institutions would refrain from cooperating with the country.

In contrast, Dr. Shafiq Al-Masry, expert in international law and constitutional sciences, said that as long as the US sanctions were flexible and vague, “it is not possible to predict how Washington will act regarding [Hezbollah’s] announcement and whether it will impose measures on Lebanon after its sanctions were previously limited to Lebanese individuals and entities.”

“The Iranian ships arrived in Venezuela, that is, the backyard of the United States, and the Americans did not act, just as other ships arrive in Syria under the watchful eye of Washington,” he underlined.

In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Masry noted that Nasrallah’s saying that the Iranian ship would be considered Lebanese territory from the moment it leaves Iran, “is contrary to the law and customs, for sovereignty is limited to the territorial waters of Lebanon, which are set at 12 km.”

“Otherwise, we are in the territorial waters of other countries in the open sea and there is no doubt that there is no Lebanese sovereignty over them,” he explained.

According to Morcos, “despite Lebanon’s vital need for oil, there are risks that may accompany this process, especially for companies that not only import oil but also unload and distribute the cargo coming from Iran.”

He noted that Lebanon could seek a special exemption from these sanctions, by submitting a request to the US Treasury, which should include “a convincing and justified explanation for the vital need of the Lebanese state for these services.”

Morcos said that Washington had previously provided exemptions to several countries from the sanctions on the import of Iranian oil, such as China, India, South Korea, Turkey, Italy, Japan, Taiwan and Greece.

Asharq Al-Awsat

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.